Celebrating women in physics with free access to their research

Special collection marks International Women’s Day by spotlighting extraordinary scientists

Greek mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Hypatia, who was head of the Platonist school at Alexandria nearly 1,600 years ago, was one of the first in a long tradition of women in physics and mathematics. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Maria Gaetana Agnesi wrote the first book on differential and integral calculus, Emilie De Breteuil translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica and added a conservation law for total energy, and Mary Somerville became the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Then , of course, in 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work on radioactivity.

These remarkable women went against cultural and gender norms and stereotypes to pursue careers in physics and mathematics, paving the way for today’s outstanding women researchers.

To celebrate International Women’s Day (#IWD2016) and the ground-breaking contributions women have made to physics over the years, we have prepared a virtual special issue of articles by leading women scientists, which is free to read.

Becoming the norm?

This portrait of Dr. Fabiola Gianotti was taken at CERN when she was head of the ATLAS experiment.In March 2009, Dr. Fabiola Gianotti took over as head of ATLAS at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. For her, this was not something special; at CERN, men and women are valued equally. She commented to New Scientist:

CERN is such a rich environment: there are people from all over the world; young students work with established scientists and Nobel prizewinners. So geographical origin, age and gender make no difference here. I don’t feel there is anything special about a woman leading a big scientific project.

On January 1, Dr. Gianotti became the first female Director-General of CERN.

The number of women working in and studying science, technology and engineering has increased dramatically over the last 40 years, but there are still some notable gaps – including in physics. Women make up just one-quarter of US majors in mathematics-intensive subjects like physics, and unfortunately this figure continues to decline.

This year, International Women’s Day calls on people to “help women and girls achieve their ambitions.” For many, the ambition is to pursue a career in physics. It’s women like Dr. Gianotti – and the researchers featured in this collection of articles – who can inspire young women. As Gianotti added in the New Scientist article:

I hope that as a woman scientist who has achieved a level of visibility in a big experiment like ATLAS, I can be an encouragement to young women who are thinking of a scientific career.

Featured researchers

The search for the Higgs boson captivated us in recent years, putting physics back into the spotlight. One of the articles in the collection, published in Nuclear Physics B, is by Dr. Gianotti and her colleagues at CERN, announcing the breakthrough that was the discovery of the Higgs boson. On 4 July 2012 she presented the results published in this featured article in a historic seminar at CERN.

Dr. Gianotti received a PhD in experimental particle physics from the University of Milano in 1989. Since 1994, she has been a research physicist in the Physics Department of CERN. She has worked on several CERN experiments, being involved in detector R&D and construction, software development and data analysis.

Prof. Lisa Randall, PhD, gives a TED Talk.Another researcher featured in the collection wrote an e-book about the Higgs boson discovery. Dr. Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology. Her research connects theoretical insights, addressing puzzles in our current understanding of the properties of matter, the universe and space. Her current research focuses on dark matter.

Prof. Randall wrote a libretto for Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes and co-curated the art exhibit Measure for Measure for the Los Angeles Arts Association. In 2012, Dr. Randall received the American Institute of Physics’ Andrew Gemant Award, which recognizes significant contributions to the cultural, artistic or humanistic dimension of physics

Published in Nuclear Physics B, Randall’s article is about breaking supersymmetry – something that’s thought to be a big part of the higher dimensional fundamental physics that underlies string theory.

Prof. Eva Andrei, PhDMore recently, graphene has been on the public radar as a material that has a wide range of applications, from superconducting to interacting with brain cells. Experimental condensed matter physicist Dr. Eva Andrei is well known for her ground-breaking work on the electronic properties of graphene. Her article in this collection, published in Thin Solid Films, is on growing another film material – bismuth selenide (Bi2Se3).

Dr. Andrei received her PhD in physics from Rutgers University, where she subsequently became an Assistant Professor of Physics. She is currently a Board of Governors Chaired Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University. She is also an editor for the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and serves on the editorial board of Solid State Communications.

Read the special collection

The Virtual Special Issue on Women in Physics is freely available until June 15, 2016.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Carina Arasa Cid, PhDDr. Carina Arasa Cid joined Elsevier in 2014 as Managing Editor in Physics, and became Publisher of a portfolio of 14 surface science journals in 2015. She holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Barcelona and has held postdoctoral positions at Helsinki University in Finland and Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her research involved theoretical simulations to study the chemical reactions that take place on space shuttles during their re-entry into the atmosphere, and water formation in the interstellar medium. The last project led her to launch a new journal at Elsevier, Molecular Astrophysics, which provides a platform for scientists studying the chemical processes that form molecules on solar system objects and in regions of star and planet formation in the interstellar medium of galaxies.

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